- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

 

Pentagon officials say a little-known al Qaeda splinter group targeted exclusively by U.S. strikes on Monday night was plotting an “imminent attack” against the U.S. homeland.

“Intelligence reports indicated that the Khorasan Group was in the final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the U.S. homeland,” Lt. Gen. William Mayville told reporters at the Pentagon.

While a coalition of U.S. and Arab military forces struck at Islamic State targets inside Syria, the Pentagon engaged in a U.S.-exclusive sortie targeting the little-known Khorasan group.

The Defense Department revealed in a statement Tuesday that U.S. Central Command conducted eight specific strikes against the outfit, which the officials described as “a network of seasoned al Qaeda veterans” operating in a safe haven inside Syria. The group is separate from the Islamic State movement.
 
Obama administration officials have said that the Islamic State, which is known by the acronyms ISIL and ISIS, does not pose an imminent threat to the U.S. homeland.

However, intelligence officials have during recent weeks shined a light on the shadowy operations of the Khorasan Group in Syria. National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper Jr. told The New York Times last week that “in terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.”

The Khorasan Group’s operations have been notoriously shrouded in mystery. Its fighters operate in secrecy, apart from other jihadist elements in the Middle East and Asia, but maintain close ties with al Qaeda leaders who once operated in Osama Bin Laden’s inner circle, analysts say.

The group’s name draws from a historical region nestled between Afghanistan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, according to published reports.

An Associated Press report earlier this month cited U.S. officials as saying the group’s members were sent to Syria by Ayman al-Zawahiri — bin Laden’s successor as head of al Qaeda’s original core in Afghanistan and Pakistan — to recruit Europeans and Americans whose passports would allow them to board a U.S.-bound airliner with less scrutiny from security officials.

Such intelligence about the Khorasan Group reportedly prompted U.S. Homeland Security officials to take action earlier this summer.

Because of information about collaboration among the Khorasan Group, Yemeni bomb-makers and Western extremists, the Transportation Security Administration in July banned uncharged mobile phones and laptops from flights to the U.S. that originated in Europe and the Middle East.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon statement said the Khorasan Group has “established a safe haven in Syria to develop external attacks, construct and test improvised explosive devices and recruit Westerners to conduct operations.”

“We’ve been watching this group closely for some time, and we believe the Khorasan Group was nearing the execution phase of an attack either in Europe, or the homeland,” said Gen. Mayville. “We know that the Khorasan Group has attempted to recruit Westerners to serve as operatives or to infiltrate back into their homelands.”

The Pentagon statement, meanwhile, said U.S. Central Command conducted strikes against Khorasan targets west of the Syrian city of Aleppo Monday, including “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities,” the Pentagon said. “These strikes were undertaken only by U.S. assets.”

Monday night’s exclusive U.S. bombing action against the group occurred while an allied coalition including Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates conducted U.S.-led airstrikes against 14 separate Islamic State targets inside Syria, military officials said.

 

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